Weep not in the mystery of the tomb, over the Spaniards’ momentary triumph,
for if a bullet your cranium destroyed, your idea, in turn, an empire destroyed.
“Al Heroe Nacional” –Cecilio Apostol, 1898
The Philippines has a very rich literature. It is written in many indigenous Filipino languages such as Ilocano, Tagalog, Bicolano, Hiligaynon, Pampango, etc., and in the languages of the colonizers, namely Spanish and English. It also covers a lot of themes. Literature reflects life and life reflects literature. In the written word we find the hopes, joys, pain and aspiration of a people. In literature we see how the Filipinos view themselves and society, historically and diachronically.
Philippine literature evolved from the indigenous pre-colonial myths and legends (alamat), and epics which were predominantly oral literature even though the Filipinos have a system of writing called the baybayin. Its development was greatly influenced by Euro-Hispanic, American, and English authors, in insight and technique, owing to the historical fact of more than 350 years of Spanish colonization and 50 years of American “benevolent assimilation.” Yet, it has made itself distinctly Filipino and remained closely linked to the hearts of the Filipino masses in its themes. This distinction is also reflected in the use of indigenous languages, in essaying the dreams, aspirations, beliefs, and worldview of the Filipino people which was brought on by contradiction in a society with a distinctive historical and social experience and psychology. As Rizal had said through one of his characters in his novel El Filibusterismo, The Reign of Greed,
Spanish will never be the common language of this country; the mass of people will never speak it, for the thoughts in their minds, and the feelings in their hearts cannot be expressed in that tongue. Each people have their own language, like having their own manner of feeling. And you, what do you imagine you will accomplish with your Spanish, the few of you who continue to speak it? You will kill your originality, subordinate your thoughts to the minds of others, and instead of achieving liberty, you will make yourselves truly slaves.
And indeed, the most significant works in Filipino literature produced over the centuries are the ones that depict the struggles of the Filipino nation against poverty, oppression and colonialism to achieve a meaningful change in society.
Through the different forms of literature both oral and written, the readers may be able to understand themselves, and their heritage if they are Filipinos, or understand the “Filipino mindset” if they are non-Filipinos; to see themselves in the stories and poems they read, and to be inspired in writing their thoughts, and in sharing these ideas, or simply, to appreciate literature. Reading a people’s literature can help cultivate a sound and critical understanding and valuation of the various explanations of life, of a culture, and ultimately the nature of man, embedded in the different forms of writing. It fosters understanding in a diverse, multi-cultural, and multi-racial society. (Tita Pambid)